How to Start a Nonprofit in Tennessee


Starting a nonprofit organization is a lengthy and complex process. If you want to start your own nonprofit, here’s what you’ll need to do.

Learn About 501(c)(3) Status

Learn About 501(c)(3) Status

A 501(c)(3) is a nonprofit organization that has been granted tax exempt status by the IRS. This means that donations to your organization can be deducted from your donors’ taxes, and that any profits will not be taxed. To get 501(c)(3) status, there are five requirements you need to meet:

  • Nonprofit organizations must operate for charitable purposes only and not for financial gain or personal benefit; this includes religious institutions as well as educational or scientific groups.
  • Organizations must have a commitment to helping others or improving society in some way; this could mean providing services or support volunteer opportunities for individuals with disabilities through athletics programs at schools or tutoring children who live nearby community centers after school hours every day during summer vacation time frames when most other kinds of activities get cancelled because parents don’t want their children traveling outside home unsupervised due lack having enough money left over after paying bills each month (like credit card payments).

Pick a Name

The first step in starting a nonprofit is to choose a name for your organization that is short, easy to pronounce, and easy to spell. It should also be something unique, so that people will not confuse it with an already-existing organization. For example, if you’re named “The Tennessee Birdwatchers Society,” then people who are looking for information about another Tennessee birdwatching group may be confused when they come across yours. You can often use variations of the name of your own family members or company (e.g., “The Mary Smith Foundation”), which can add a personal touch without making it seem too formal.

One thing that you should avoid doing is using the name of an existing organization, even if they’re not in competition with yours; this could lead people—and even funders—to assume that there’s some sort of connection between them without knowing all the facts first! Also, remember not to use any living person’s name without permission; doing so might cause legal issues down the road once their rights pass on after death.”

Get a Federal Employer Identification Number

An EIN is an Employer Identification Number. It’s a nine-digit number that identifies you as an entity to the United States Government. You can get an EIN by applying online at the IRS website, and it only takes about 2 minutes. Once you have your own EIN, it’s important for you to use it on all financial transactions related to your nonprofit organization (including tax returns). Using someone else’s EIN or using a dummy EIN will only cause problems in the future when filing taxes or registering with other government agencies like state departments of revenue and labour boards.

Hold Initial Board of Directors Meetings and Elect Officers

The next step is to hold your initial board of directors meeting. At this meeting, you will elect the officers and likely discuss a few other important items. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The first thing that you should do is call an official meeting. This can be done by sending out a notice via email or snail mail (whichever method your nonprofit uses). The notice should include when and where the meeting will take place, as well as a description of what will be discussed at the meeting. All board members must receive notification before they can attend this initial session, even if they’re not yet ready for it! This gives everyone time to prepare their thoughts about how things should move forward from here onwards out into public view via social media channels like Facebook or Twitter where most potential donors hang out these days anyway.

Prepare Your Articles of Incorporation

  • Prepare Your Articles of Incorporation (Sections 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4) and 509)

The first legal step in starting a nonprofit is to create the organization’s articles of incorporation, which is a document that establishes your organization’s official existence in the state where it’s located. The articles must include:

  • The name of your nonprofit
  • Its purpose or mission statement
  • A physical address for your organization

Create Bylaws to Guide Your Organization

Once you’ve registered your nonprofit, you must create bylaws. According to the IRS, a set of bylaws is “a written document that provides the framework for how your organization will operate.”

When it comes to writing these documents, there are two main components: articles and bylaws. The articles describe the general purpose and mission statement of your organization; they also include information on how members can be added or removed from leadership positions at different levels (such as president, vice president and secretary) in order for decisions to move forward smoothly within your organization.

The bylaws will go into much more detail about internal operations such as voting rights within meetings and disciplinary procedures if someone violates office policies or procedures outlined in the articles section above. As important as this document is for guiding decision-making throughout an organization’s lifespan—and even beyond—it may not seem like something worth investing time into creating initially (we’ll get there).

Comply with State Filings for Tax Exemptions and Sales Tax

You will need to register with the state and the IRS as a nonprofit, and file an annual report.

The first step is to contact the appropriate state agency to complete your initial registration forms. This can be done in one of two ways:

  • Online submission through the Tennessee Secretary of State website, which allows you to submit all required documents with just a few clicks. You can also save and return later if you want more time or want help from an attorney.

The Tennessee Secretary of State requires two documents:

  • Articles of Incorporation (for new nonprofits), or Articles of Organization (for existing nonprofits) – This form includes information about directors/trustees; officers; members; and by-laws for governance/operation purposes only (it does not authorize any activities).
  • Tax Exemption Application – this form must be completed by an authorized agent via e-signature technology before submitting it to TESC for processing along with other documentation such as an IRS determination letter stating your tax-exempt status

You have to start somewhere.

There are many things you can do to get started. If you have an idea for a nonprofit and want to start it, there is no time like the present! You can take these first steps:

  • Find out about your state’s laws regarding nonprofits. The National Association of State Charity Officials has a great resource for this on its website.
  • Start researching other organizations that may be similar to yours or in the same area as yours, so that you can learn from their successes and challenges. This will help inform which aspects of your nonprofit will work best in Tennessee. Consider what kind of relationship with your local government is appropriate (if any) based on your mission and goals; there might be laws governing how closely you must work with them during the startup phases. Look at other nonprofits in Tennessee who have been successful with similar missions as yours, especially if they’re national organizations that have set up shop locally. Find someone who knows something about starting nonprofits; often times there are experts at colleges or universities nearby who would be glad to provide advice on getting started


Nonprofit organizations are more important than ever for the state of Tennessee and its citizens. They provide valuable services to communities, help keep people out of poverty, and are committed to improving the lives of others. With so many nonprofits operating in the state, it can be difficult to know where to begin when starting one yourself. We hope this guide has provided you with some useful information on how to start a nonprofit in Tennessee that will help make your journey easier!

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